Rugby Proof Your Shoulders Part 1 (Strength)

In the game of rugby, you use your shoulders a lot.  Whether it be tackling, rucking, lifting, or trying to run over people.  Your shoulders take a beating every match. This is why the shoulders are a common injury in the game of rugby.  

Strength training and mobility work will help prevent injuries in the shoulder and increase your longevity in the game of rugby.  Although when it comes to strength training this is where most of us mess up training the shoulders. The shoulders are one of the most complex joints in the body.  Go ahead and move your arm around in every direction. The shoulder can press, pull, make circles, and throw. All in all, there are about 10 different ranges of motion the shoulder can do.

As you can see the shoulder is very complex and that is why it is easy for athletes to mess it up when it comes to training it properly.  They only train one or two movements instead of all of them. It’s, not anyone’s fault they just don’t know any better. I myself use to only train one or two movements of the shoulder which ended up leading to a lot of stingers.  As I learned how to properly train the stingers went away along with the aches and pains in the shoulder.

The most common thing most athletes get wrong when it comes to strengthening the shoulder is just doing bench press and nothing else.  The bench press is a great exercise, but if that is all you do you will be destroying the range of motion in the shoulder. By benching all the time the pectoral muscles tighten and bring the shoulder and scapula forward into a rounded position.  When you tackle or ruck someone with this bad posture you are setting yourself up for injuries.  

You don’t want to engage in a scrum with a rounded back. The same goes for your shoulder as you don’t want to go into contact with a rounded shoulder.  Other problems that can come from having rounded shoulders are when it comes to throwing a ball or reaching out to make a tackle. When the shoulder does not have its free range of motion and is forced to stretch beyond what it can’t do, it will more than likely lead to some type of tear or other injuries. 

The way you prevent rounded shoulders is by training the shoulders in all ranges of motion.  If you are benching then you need to add pressing overhead as well. Also, don’t forget about the posterior which is actually more important than the pressing.  You need to add pulling movements such as pull ups and rows to keep the shoulder blade pulled back and down in its natural position. The posterior is more important to train because of our lifestyle in general.  Computers, phones, sitting, and driving all have a tendency to pull you forward into a rounded bad posture. By adding more posterior work with pulling in both vertical and horizontal you will combat the stresses and strains that bad posture puts on your body.  

Alright, so which strength movements should you be doing to strengthen and protect your shoulder?  The four main movements would be vertical pressing, horizontal pressing, vertical pulling, and horizontal pulling.  There are other movements you can train the shoulder with, but these are the 4 basic movements that will give you the biggest reward.  

Here are the movements you should be doing for vertical pressing:  press with the barbell, handstand push ups or jackknife push ups, kettlebell presses and bottoms up kettlebell presses.  As athletes, it is always important to train unilaterally as that is the way you move naturally on the rugby pitch. What I like about the kettlebell press is that it puts the shoulder in a safe position and will help increase your mobility in the shoulder as well.  The bottoms press is great because it teaches your body correct alignment for the press. If you are not pressing correctly then the kettlebell will fall and not go up.

Jacknife Push Up

Bottoms Up Press

Here are the movements you should be doing for horizontal pressing:  bench press, floor press, push ups and all the hundreds of variations there are for them.  If you are already have jacked up shoulders then floor press is going to be a great alternative to bench press.  The floor press is another movement that puts your shoulders in a safe position and teaches you how to properly press horizontally.  Push ups are great because they can be done anywhere and can be made as intense as you want. There is always some sort of progression or modification you can make with push ups.

Here are the movements you should be doing for vertical pulling:  pull ups and lat pulldowns. Pull ups are by far one of the best movements you can do as they involve more muscles than just your lats.  The pull up teaches your body how to depress your shoulder blade into its natural position. Which helps fight the rounded shoulder that we want to avoid.  Lat pulldowns are a great alternative if you are not able to do pull ups.

Here are the movements you should be doing for horizontal pulling:  bodyweight rows and bent over rows. Bodyweight rows are like push ups there are many different ways to them and they can be easily progressed or modified.  This is the movement that should have more volume than any other in your training. The reason is that it not only strengthens the posterior, but it is the number one movement to fight the rounded shoulders.  Bent over rows are great as they teach you how to keep a straight back. If your back is not properly aligned while doing a bent over row it will let you know. Plus bent over rows can be done with a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell.  

Most people think pressing is the only to train the shoulders and that pulling is just for training the back.  Well, they are wrong. You need to include both pressing and pulling movements so that your shoulders are well balanced.  If you want a long career playing rugby then you want to train shoulders in this manner. Remember that you need to do pulling movements more than pressing to help fight against the daily stresses your body goes through.  

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